LAC Group uses cookies to improve functionality and performance of this site. More information can be found in our Privacy policy. By continuing to browse this site, you consent to the use of cookies.

It takes two: Law firm culture and leadership

Marcie Borgal Shunk on Foresights & Friends

October 17, 2022

Home Blog It takes two: Law firm culture and leadership
marcie borgal shunk

Evoking change in the legal space is never easy. But we learned a lot about the primary factors that get law firms closer to change, the imperatives of a culture shift, and how to establish cultural metrics.

The Tilt Institute founder Marcie Borgal Shunk addresses all of that on our Foresights & Friends podcast. Read on for the discussion summary or hit play on the audio player below to hear the 20-minute conversation.

When The Tilt Institute first started, Marcie worked closely with law firm leaders on strategy planning and effectively translating data into action. But throughout her experience, she realized firms faced several challenges when it came to implementation and execution.

Firms were often hung up on “How do we do this?” and “What do we do next?” Ultimately, Marcie saw what kept firms from change and action: culture and leadership.

Since then, her practice has naturally evolved from working with firm leaders and data, to focusing on firm habits, behavior and culture within the firm.

Biggest changes in law firm leadership

External factors tend to impose change. Before the pandemic, the most significant shift Marcie had seen inside the firm was driven by client demand. This triggered a focused effort inside the firms on marketing and business development — translating into the building of professional infrastructures in these areas.

Now, Marcie has noticed a similar tectonic shift. It is all about talent!

Responding to the changing needs of the talent pool is incredibly important, in order to maintain, retain, and attract new talent. Firm leaders must see and understand their colleagues not only as professionals, but also as people.

Culture shift and profitability

A majority of law firms have what Marcie refers to as “performance cultures” or “look good cultures.” These cultures are linked inextricably to metrics. In many ways, the metrics matter more than the people do.

This type of culture largely stems from the fear that if culture or habits change, firms will be less profitable.

But there are alternatives to a “performance culture” that are equally effective: cultures that seek both high financial performance and high talent retention and employee satisfaction.

Validated research shows that cultures described as more supportive and allow people to achieve, ultimately, have long-term financial success. More so, than other cultures.

“Performance culture” often sees more variability and performance ups and downs than cultures that are consistently moving towards a positive, constructive culture. A simple way to put this, she states, is that being nice to one another does not cost money. It’s just a shift in mindset.

Establishing cultural metrics

Cultural assessment tools give firms a view into the underlying rules and expectations of the culture. For example, how an individual needs to behave in order to succeed in the organization.

When conducting cultural studies on law firms, Marcie’s primary intent is to understand:

  • Where the firm stands now
  • How can the firm get closer to their ideal culture from where they are today

That type of measurement gives clarity as to where firms are in encouraging people to develop themselves, behave collaboratively, and pursue excellence.

Firms can also create space and preparation for leadership skills at every level of the firm. Tools should be provided to help people effectively understand themselves.

What does it take to change firm culture?

It’s a combination of self-realization and self-awareness. Policies, procedures, and processes that are part of culture — how firms write job expectations, how feedback is given. Equally important is how people behave and interact with one another.

Interpersonal relationships can only change with self-awareness. And that self-awareness needs to start at the top and bottom. Each individual must take responsibility for his or her interaction with other individuals at the firm.

Subscribe to our blog

Get notified when new articles are published.